Thursday, June 30, 2016

Words of Joy -- Cartwheels, Alan Alda, and me

This blog post was original drafted in February 2015, more than a year ago.  I had completely forgotten about it until I logged in this morning to post some actual writing updates, since this is, after all, a blog about writing.  I will have another post for tomorrow, but I think this one was just sitting here in draft mode waiting for the proper moment.  I'll check the links to make sure they work.

Life gets in the way.  Dreams get put on back burners.  And then something happens.
Something like someone mentioning cartwheels, and my replying that someday I should tell my cartwheel story.  And the very next day the whole thing starts into motion.

It all happened a few weeks ago.  I was getting ready to log off the computer when an email popped up, a notification that my daughter in law in Seattle had posted something to Facebook.  It turned out to be something innocuous, but when I logged in to Facebook, there was this weird picture on the right side of my screen, some paid ad or link or whatever.  The pic was of Alan Alda from 30-40 years ago, fatigues costume from M*A*S*H.  Now, you know how I am about omens, which I don't believe in.  But my first thought was, like, is this some stupid non-omen trying to tell me I need to tell the story of the cartwheels? 

Anyway, here's what happened with the cartwheels, Alan Alda, and me.

Way way way back in October of 1968, I was living in a girls' residential club at 435 W. Surf St. in Chicago.  (The building is still there, now converted to luxury condos.)  A group of four or five of us decided to head downtown one Saturday evening to see a movie.  We picked Finian's Rainbow, with Petula Clark, Fred Astaire, Tommy Steele, etc.  I was wearing a Black Watch plaid kilt (which I still have) and a black V-neck sweater borrowed from my then boyfriend Randy.

On the bus going downtown, we chatted about how uptight people could be, in general, and afraid to let go every once in a while.

Finian's Rainbow is one of those "feel good" movies, so when we came out of the theatre on Randolph Street around 11:00, I was feeling very "up."  The sidewalk was crowded with people coming out of and going into the theatres and other places.  I told the other girls I felt so good after the movie that I could almost do cartwheels down the sidewalk.

Oh, horrors!  They were adamantly against that idea.

"No, no, no, don't do that.  Don't do that!  Don't make a spectacle of yourself!  Don't embarrass us!"

That was all the encouragement I needed.  I set my purse on the sidewalk.  I did three or four cartwheels down to the corner, three or four back to where my purse was.  The other girls were mortified.  The people around us laughed and a few clapped.  On the bus going back up north to Surf St., I wanted to sing songs from the movie.  We were the only passengers on the bus the whole way, except for a woman sitting right behind the bus driver who was probably his wife or mother or some such.  No one else sang.  I did.  The other girls were furious with me, even when I reminded them of our earlier conversation.

Jump forward about ten to 15 years. 

Somewhere back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when M*A*S*H was consistently wiping up Emmy after Emmy, Alan Alda tried his hand at directing and then at writing.  One year he was nominated for an Emmy for writing the script for an episode.  We happened to be watching -- I rarely watched awards shows but my husband was an addict -- and as I remembered it, though incorrectly, Carol Burnett was presenting the award for comedy writing.  She opened the envelope, scanned the name, and burst into hysterical Carol Burnett laughter.  She was barely able to read "And the winner is . . . Alan Alda."  (In fact, according to YouTube, it was Penny Marshall and Cindy what's her name from Laverne and Shirley who presented.  I think there may have been a later interview or conversation between Burnett and Alda where he said he had told her what he was going to do.)

The camera pans to Alda.  He has this huge shit-eating grin on his face.  He bounces up, stops for a second, and turns a cartwheel, on camera. 

At that point I was half hysterical, and then I had to tell my husband about my Randolph Street/Finian's Rainbow cartwheels.  He just rolled his eyes.

Fast forward again, now to early May 1998.  I was going through some severe emotional crises at the time and had been stabbed in the back by some people I thought were my dearest friends.  My editor at Pocket Books had destroyed my writing career and I was on the verge of total meltdown.  I had gone to a writers' conference -- which in fact I had organized -- where just everything that could go wrong had done so, and in terms of my writing and my career and my personal life, I was getting nothing but horrible advice -- shut up, don't complain, don't stand up for yourself, do whatever it takes to get along even if it means sacrificing ALL your creative integrity.  I was emotionally devastated.  Even being in the Crowne Plaza in NYC and getting all the perks of being the organization's president and conference chair didn't help.

From my journal, at the time:

    Sunday, 3 May 1998  (Morning entry)
    A strange evening last night, and now awake at 5:15 to a foggy Manhattan morning.  I was up here reading through the old letters yesterday evening when T*** called and asked if I wanted to go out to dinner with H***** L****.  It would have been rude to decline even though I couldn't really afford it.  So we went out, to a nice little restaurant a half block from the hotel.  H***** is very much into horse racing, so we had an interesting little talk about Arlington Park and horses and Round Table, of all things.  I indulged myself with an amaretto. After dinner – I loosened up a little, but I'm still very furious at both T*** and K**** – we came back to the hotel and chatted with P** K**, B**** D****, B**** [H****], M******* B*******, C****** K*********, etc.  Somehow the subject came up and I told the little story of my cartwheels down Randolph Street in 1968.  Everyone thought it was funny.  Then someone mentioned tarot, so I came up to the room to get my deck.  While waiting for the elevator, I tried a cartwheel in the hall.  Once downstairs, in the lobby, in red skirt and red silk blouse, sans brassiere, barefoot, I did two very nice cartwheels.

Everyone of course was scandalized and humiliated, though the swanky wedding party going into their reception in one of the ballrooms off the lobby thought it was terrific and applauded.

I continued to turn cartwheels every once in a while, usually in defiance of something or other.  In the lobby at Walmart when I worked there and someone didn't believe I could do them.  In the parking lot at another job in 2005.  At my 40th class reunion in 2006.  I'm not sure if I've done any since then, but I probably could.  It's not like you forget how to do cartwheels.

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